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International Media Studies Vol 4

Published by International Institute for Journalism / GIZ & Deutsche Welle

October 2011

Biodiversity – wild, wild Berlin Modern Noah’s Ark sailing away with DNA Page 2

What are the foxes doing in Berlin? Page 3

The A-Z of wildlife in the city Page 3

he drama of biodiversity is unfolding in Germany’s capital, right under the Brandenburger Tor. The fragility of a butterfly against the magnitude of the monument in this photo collage symbolises the struggle of nature to adapt to urban life, and vice versa. Biodiversity is the variety of life in the world. Scientists have identified 1.75 million species, but millions are still unkown. In Berlin, a city larger than two hundred soccer fields, 3.4 million inhabitants share their living space with an endless number of wild species: Often unnoticed, plants find their home growing in the cracks of sidewalks, birds build their nests on rooftops. In the urban jungle some species disappear while others invade. Berliners have come to live with foxes and boars again. On the other hand, some plant species such as the coneflower are disappearing. Our environment is changing.A challenge, yes, but also a chance to reconnect with nature – which, after all, we are a part of. It inspires us to create art, fall in love, and sometimes makes us feel as light, and resistent, as a butterfly.

Green Berlin – still a dream? The Red List of Berlin labels 136 plants with “very high” protection priority. But are they really protected? Herbert Winkelmann, biologist and co-compiwler of the list, says not enough is being done To what degree are plants in Berlin endangered? The situation is far from ideal. After the fall of the wall the mass construction began which caused disappearance of certain species within the city. For example, wild, empty areas were taken up for housebuilding in districts such as the Diplomatenviertel. Due to its climate, Berlin’s ecosystem is very special – the average temperature is two to three degrees higher than in the neighborhood. This means, Mediterranean species, which can be found here, are unique for northern Germany.

The challenge of biodiversity: Nature struggling to enter the gates of urban life

The Godmother of “Flower Power” A new take on biodiversity: People protecting their favourite plants By Eira Martens, Veve Hitipeuw and Aleksandra Poliakova

in the yard of Sophiengartenresidenz. The retirement home has been supporting the maintenance of the flower since 2003. Weinert decided to spend her sunset years here because it is only a walk away from the Botanic Garden. After having lived in Columbia for four years the young Inge Weinert had returned to Germany

Today, she pays 300 Euros of her modest pension as an individual sponsorship every year to save the Pereskia Grandifolia, a rare leave cactus. “I am always relieved when I manage to pay the last installment around Christmas time”, she admits. The Berlin Botanic Garden sponsorship project started in 2000.

PHOTO: EIRA MARTEns

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s one of the oldest and biggest institutions of its kind, the Berlin Botanic Garden is leading a new trend. One hundred godfathers and godmothers are taking care of plants from all world regions. What does biodiversity mean? Gesche Hohlstein, spokesperson of the Botanic Garden Museum in Berlin-Dahlem, compares it to learning a language. Both are very complex and take a long time to be fully understood. A walk through the garden only allows visitors to get to know a very small number of the 22.000 species. “If we walk for six and a half years through our garden, every day even on Sundays, we still haven’t seen everything,” explains Hohlstein. With 43 hectares of greenery the Berlin Botanic Garden is one of the largest parks worldwide. The park founded in 1679 offers its visitors a “green world tour”: An abundance of trees, ferns, flowers and shrubbery are cultivated according to their geographic origin displaying the fauna of Europe, Asia and America. Inge Weinert, 76, is one of the long-standing godmothers of the Botanic Garden. Carefully she bends down to take in the fading scent one of the last blossoms of the yellow cone flower planted

Interview

Godmother on duty: Inge Weinert knows all about coneflowers

in the Seventies. Desperately looking for a job, the mother of three ended up in the trial department of the Federal Agency of Biology. “I didn’t know anything about plants, so I started to go to the Botanic Garden to learn about them,” she remembers. Finally, Inge Weinert knew more about tropical species than her fellow experts.

It currently counts 86 individual sponsors and 14 arrangements with businesses and other institutions. The sponsors can choose to make an annual volunteer contribution between 250 and 1500 Euros which can be renewed or cancelled at any time. Each of them receives a certificate and his or her name is put on the plate next to the plant.

Tim Besser, 36, is another sponsor. He is the proud godfather of the manioc plant. “Manioc is one of the most important food crops in Brazil,” Besser explains – and he chose it because his management consultancy Besser International cooperates with Latin America, one of its main markets. Besser’s money, like all donations, is directly invested into the area of the Botanic Garden where his manioc is cultivated among many other species. The sponsors’ donations help but are not enough to maintain the plants. “The biggest benefit is the personal commitment,” says spokesperson Gesche Hohlstein. The Gardens are indeed in a poor financial state: After the fall of the Berlin wall they were handed over from the Senate to the Free University of Berlin, and soon the organization was threatened with closure due to drastic financial cuts. One of the founders of the godfather project is wellknown German comedian Wigald Boning. But still “the Garden would need much more prominent support,” says biologist Herbert Winkelmann (see side bar). For now at least the garden can rely on committed godfathers and godmothers such as Inge Weinert, a busy grandmother of six. “I always feel great when I am there,” she tells us with a radiant smile. Become a sponsor: www.bgbm.org

Why are plants important for the ecosystem? If one rare species lives on a rare plant and this plant disappears, it leads to the extinction of the animal. On an oak, for instance, about thousand species may be living. If we lose the oak, all these animals will become extinct as well.

PHOTO: PRIVATE

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PHoto: G. Mieth / Collage: Francis FranÇa

Only the strongest survive in the urban jungle

Passionate about mushrooms Page 4

Sceptical: biologist Herbert Winkelmann

What is being done to sustain biodiversity? One of the measures is the list of endangered species published by the Berlin Senate. However, the list is compiled by private specialists who do not get paid for them, and, therefore, its constant update is problematic. How can the situation be improved? We should promote the knowledge of the species and this should start at school. If we do not know a species, we simply do not notice when it disappears. Interview: Aleksandra Poliakova Detailed information about Berlin’s ecosystem including the Red List: www.stadtentwicklung.berlin.de/ natur_gruen


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Dossier: Biodiversity – wild, wild Berlin

October 2011

Scientists store life in modern Noah’s Ark

A labyrinth of herbs: Dr. Holger Zetsche heads the DNA Bank in Berlin

By Francis França

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magine an oasis to preserve the genetic code of thousands of species from our planet’s biodiversity. If your mind is traveling through a bucolic forest with all mother earth’s colors, sounds and smells, you have got the wrong picture. One of the most important centers for biodiversity storage in Germany is located in the middle of its 3.4 million people capital Berlin, at the end of a long white corridor and smells like bleach. The DNA Bank inside the Botanic Garden Berlin-Dahlem is comprised of three freezers not larger than a normal family’s fridge. They can harbor more than the amazing number of 100,000 samples of genetic code (DNA) of plants under minus 81 degrees Celsius, but the only reference to real life in the room is an amusing – and ironic – picture on the freezer’s door of “Scrat”, the funny saber-toothed squirrel in the “Ice Age” animation movie.

Big cities might not seem the best environment for biodiversity protection. Yet according to Dr. Holger Zetzsche, 38, manager of the DNA Bank Network, wild life has no other chance. “Since agriculture is a big threat to biodiversity especially in densely populated countries such as Germany, certain species of plants and animals are found only either in very remote areas or in cities.” In his DNA Bank, life remains in its latent form. Cells, seeds or leafs of each species are stored and catalogued for research and experiments. The BGBM is part of the DNA Bank Network and works with similar institutes in Germany and New York. Together they store more than 42,000 DNA samples of plants, animals and bacteria. The research is funded by the Deutsche

Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), a parastatal organisation. Germany also works in cooperation with institutions from all over the world to store seeds in the Global Seed Vault in Norway (see article below), represented by the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) in Gatersleben. Such a huge biological effort has a very simple reason: species on the planet are dying faster than ever. Some scholars estimate that we will have lost fifty percent of our biodiversity by 2100. And since humans are the cause of this mass extinction, scientists are convinced that we should better start fixing the damage now in order to assure our own survival. “It may seem that we are trying to go against Darwin’s theory and stop evolution, but this is not our intention. We protect the species whose absence could have bad consequences for humans,” admits Dr. Zetzsche. Seed banks and DNA banks collect samples of crop species and, whenever requested, send a portion of these seeds to be redeployed in a certain region. “Every year we send around 20,000 crop seeds to be planted in various parts of the world, such as wheat for the Middle East,” explains Professor Andreas Graner, 54, head of the crop research institute IPK in Leibniz. Researchers as well as governments or even farmers can request seeds and plant material from his bank.

With animals the process is more complex, though. Scientists need stem cells in order to clone them, but this is still far from being usual practice. Some important species for human life would not even stand a chance alone out there. “If you release a cow in nature it will probably starve to death,” exemplifies Professor Graner. These species need humans to survive, and that is why scientists store, together with the genes of traditional animals or crops, samples of their wild relatives - such as indigenous cattle or strain of wheat which would be able to survive alone in extreme conditions. Keeping the DNA of a species is nonetheless no guarantee for bringing a certain plant or animal back to life. Prophet Noah would certainly not be able to save animals with only one pair of each species – as the Bibble suggests. “Scientists need sufficient genetic diversity to establish a population,” says Dr. Zetzsche. The genebank of the IPK, for example, has about 3,000 different species, and for each of them, thousand of samples. Among them there are 25,000 samples of barley and more than 30,000 samples of wheat. So, at least mankind will neither run out of beer nor bread in the future.

“We protect species important for human survival”

Nature’s jewelry: a DNA helix containing the code for every single life on the planet

PHoto: Bead Origami

PHoto: Ziggi Song

Species are ripped out of our planet faster than ever. In order to preserve biodiversity, institutes across Germany keep more than 40,000 DNA samples of animals and plants – and the headquarter of the network is in Berlin

In case of doomsday, break the ice! PHoto: Svalbard Global Seed Vault/Mari Tefre

By Helen Mendes

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uried in permafrost, inside a bombproof bunker protected against floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters, a vault holds a treasure for mankind. It keeps a collection of seeds that are important for food production. Located in the remote Norwegian region of Svalbard, north of the Arctic Circle, this is the largest collection of seeds in the world. Science institutes from Berlin and the entire world send their seeds to Norway to create a safety net to protect agriculture biodiversity. The so-called “Doomsday Seed Bank” was opened in 2008 and has the capacity of storing 4,5 million different seed samples – each sample contains an average of 500 seeds, to ensure the safety of crop diversity in case of natural disasters or war. The vault was built by

Frozen treasure: Food seeds for future generations

Norway, its construction cost nine million dollars. The Global Crop Diversity Trust runs its operations, and is funded by governments and private donations. What is threatening our crops,

and why do we need a backup of our most important seeds? The wildest catastrophic scenarios can be imagined – locust plagues, airborne fungi, asteroid collision or nuclear war. But a more realistic

menace to food security is already in place – the environmental transformations caused by climate change. The seeds come from gene banks all over the world. The Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK), from Germany, for example, sends seed samples from local crops like wheat, barley and cabbages every two years – to assure the survival of the “Sauerkraut”. “The conditions for life on Earth are ever changing and we cannot assume that a seed from the present will grow in a future modified environment. Therefore our seed bank needs to be updated often,” says researcher Andreas Graner of the IPK. “Most of the samples should be able to survive for up to 40 years, but after 200 years, I would have my concerns.” The ice cold temperature slows the process of aging in the seeds, but eventually, they grow old and die. That’s why it is necessary to

plant them from time to time, and harvest fresh seeds, so they can be perpetuated. In this sense, the Norwegian vault is a constant quest to protect the treasure of nature. Come hell or high water, vital seeds will be safe inside the frozen fortress in Svalbard.

More on DNA Banks

Scientific infos about Ger-

man DNA Bank Network www.dnabank-network.org

Homepage of Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) www.ipk-gatersleben.de

Peep into Svalbard Global

Seed Vault, nature’s bunker in Norway www.seedvault.no

Credits / Impressum: Produced by International Media Studies in collaboration with IIJ/GIZ and Deutsche Welle. Editorial team: Aleksandra Poliakowa, Anne Ndung’u, Arti Ekawati, Eira Martens, Farzana Khan, Francis França, Helen Mendes, Katsiaryna Kryzhanouskaya, Naim Zeqiri, Tianlin Xu, Veve Hitipeuw, Ziggi Song. Trainers: Andrea Tapper, Olaf Herling. Berlin, October 2011


Dossier: Biodiversity – wild, wild Berlin

3 Discover wild Berlin

Dangerous or endangered?

The A – Z of wildlife in the city

The German capital is invaded by wild animals. Foxes, wild boars, raccoons, beavers and others fight for their right to be real Berliners By Katsiaryna Kryzhanouskaya

harmonious co-existence with the wild neighbors. Oddly enough, being one of the most experienced people he has also become a victim – a fox stole two of his rabbits. “Well, it happened just after we moved to our family house. It was a real chaos and for around two days the rabbits had to live in the garden. We realized the risk, but thought that nothing would happen in this short time.” The accident didn’t change his attitude to the wild inhabitants of the city: “I love them!” he exclaims.

Food is the main reason why wild animals come to urban areas. “Here they always have a “richly served table,” says Franusch. No more hungry winter: Trash bins at the back yards of fast-food chains such as Mc Donald’s offer a tasty menu – and foxes don’t mind eating hamburgers and chips instead of their traditional dishes, mice or hares. Many Berliners reckon that the proliferation of wild life, especially of wild boars, started after

Animal invasion: a fox at a bus stop in Berlin-Zehlendorf

the fall of the Berlin wall – a kind of reunification of the animal kingdom. Marc Franusch doesn’t agree. The living together of animals and human beings in the urban surrounding is not a new phenomenon, he insists, it existed hundreds of years ago. Still he admits that during the last twenty years the number of animals in Berlin has been growing. “The wonderful blackbird – now a classical dweller of our gardens – had not lived here before. It was only around 15 years ago that it settled in the city,” explains the expert. According to specialists it is impossible to count how many animals live in the capital today. Around 1500 wild boars are hunted in

Berlin annually – the number indicating the scope of the population. Nevertheless, another process is going on simultaneously. Due to construction works, dense building-up and removal of dead wood a lot of species leave the city because their living space evaporates. Their existence becomes endangered. Such plants and animals are included in the Red List of Berlin (see sidebar).

Clash of civilizations For the last twelve years Marc Franusch – a friendly man looking much younger that he really is - has been responsible for informing Berliners about the rules of

The list of species living in Berlin is impressive: wild boars, foxes, raccoons, common newts, beavers, white-tailed eagles – hundreds of species who feel at home here. They are wild, but not dangerous, Marc Franusch insists: “There are still no poisonous snakes, black bears and big cats. The only problematic animal is the wild boar, but if you respect it, stay aside and hold your dog on the line in spring when they have nestlings – you are safe.” Yet, after centuries of living together people and animals are still in conflict. Animals ruin gardens, kill pets, sometimes may even harm people, and as they belong to no one, no one is paying for the damage. Marc Franusch gets really nervous when he hears about a wild animal biting a person. Once he received a call about the fox that has bitten a school guard – such things seldom occur. The surprised specialist tried to figure out how that could happen and found out: “They had a competition for the coolest picture of the fox made with a mobile phone,” explains the specialist. The “winner” took the animal in his hands and the scared animal tried to protect itself. “I want to make it clear,” Franusch insists, “the fox is not dangerous, neither is the raccoon, nor the wild boar. All they need is our respect, so we should simply let them live.”

The most endangered plants More than 2000 plants species are known in Berlin. 7 percent of them are considered endangered. For instance, the spreading bellflower – a plant with small purple flowers and narrow pointed leaves, growing mainly in forests. It can be more than half a meter high.

Photo: Fornax

Reunification of nature

The most Eurasian Hobby endangered animals Eurasian Hobby, a small and slim falcon, is one of the 14 most endangered birds species living in Berlin. You can recognize the hobby by its rust-colored “pants”. Only two hobbies were spotted in the German capital this year. Among other animals on the Red List of Berlin, the official list of endangered species, is the turtle dove. The brown bird has a black-and-white striped patch on the neck. Its tail can be seen only when the bird is flying. Turtle dove means “lover” in German (“Turteltaube”). Isn’t it sad that there are fewer and fewer lovers in Berlin?

Amazing variety

Photo: F. Moellers – wildesberlin.de

Wild beauty: Spreading Bellflower

The Red List of Berlin Gives an overview of endangered plants and animals living in the city. After its first release in 1982 it was updated several times and now includes 7087 species. More than a half of them are insects. Several groups of animals and plants have been added, for example vascular plants, mosses, lichens and mollusks. The Red List is compiled and published by the Senate of Berlin with an input of independent scientists.

Attention! Boars ahead! Experts‘ advice in case a wild animal strays into a home or is spotted on the streets: Don‘t panic By Anne Ndung’u

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o start with: Know what wild animals you are likely to find in your city. This is general consent among experts. Racoons, foxes and boars are quite common in Berlin, for example.  If you run into wild animals, walk around them or look for an alternative way. Watch out for animals with young ones. Boars can be particularly vicious then and might attack. But generally, boars are not as dangerous as people think.  Don’t panic. Most wild animals reemerging in European cities are harmless and will not attack unless threatened. If you want to get rid of a fox in your garden, for instance, experts advise to make loud noise to scare them off.

 Berlin has started a special “Wild animal hotline” (Telephone 030/64193723) which receives up to thirty calls a day of people asking for help. One can get information about the rare possibility of getting rabies from a fox bite or the somewhat dangerous looking grass snake which is mostly harmless. It will escape if given leeway and rarely bites.  Another advice: Don’t feed wild animals. Feeding accustoms them to human presence and they lose the instinct to search for food. Keep a clean environment where the animals might scavenge for food. Close rubbish bins tightly, clear up leftovers and enclose compost pits in your garden.  A fine of 5000 Euro is charged in Berlin for feeding wild animals.

Photo: F. Moellers – wildesberlin.de

Photo: Kryzhanouskaya

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saw a fox sitting in my garden, it wasn’t afraid at all and even looked at me with curiosity when I shouted at it to make it go,” says project manager Annette Ehrminger, 48, who lives nearby the Berlin Airport. “Berlin is densely populated by wild animals. Many people still think that the wild forest is their real home and it is an exception to see an animal in the city. Not anymore,” comments Marc Franusch, 47, expert of the Berlin’s Forestry department. The beasts thrive in a large and green city such as Berlin with lots of food, parks and water. “Generations of Berlin wild boars have never seen a real forPassion for wildlife: est,” Fraexpert Marc Franusch nusch says: “There is a chance to meet a fox almost anywhere.” His office is situated in the outskirts of Berlin, in a small two-storey building surrounded by trees. It seems that the people working here on wild life protection may easily meet their fosterlings. But the specialists are quick to explain: in this time of the year it is rather unlikely. Animals have enough food in forests, so there is no need for them to roam in the streets looking for leftovers.

Endangered animals, dangerous animals and rare plants – they all form the biota of the Germany’s capital. Some of them need special protection

Biodiversity in the German capital: a family of boars living on the street

Learn more about wildlife in Berlin  Multimedia project about wildlife of Berlin - www.wildesberlin.de  Berlin branch of nature protection organisation - www.berlin.nabu.de  Museum of natural history - www.naturkundemuseum-berlin.de

Wildlife entering the city Wild boars are, probably, the most famous wild animals living in Berlin. They can be really huge, growing up to 1.80 meter high and weighing around 150 kilos. Normally they live in the periphery of Berlin but more and more often they invade the city, living in its forests and parks. Their number is unknown. These animals may attack if they feel cornered and are very sensitive during the nestling time in April and May. Still, they are not as dangerous as many people think. There are also other new species moving into the city. Among such “new Berliners” is the raccoon, a nocturnal predator that can never be domesticated. By Naim Zeqiri

Illustration: Naumann

October 2011


Dossier: Biodiversity - wild, wild Berlin

4

Mushroom maniacs

October 2011

What is a mushroom?

Germans love mushroom hunting - and some take their passion even further

Neither plant nor animal

Fungi fans: Heinrich Waldschütz (right) and his group meet every week to discuss their beloved mushrooms such as this curry-smelling Fenugreek Milkcap

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ocated on the fifth floor, the meeting room of mushroom lovers appears white and clean, decorated in modern minimalistic style. Around twenty people between 20 and 80 years sit on the round table covered with different sorts of wild mushrooms, concentrating on listening to Horst Streese, the eldest member of the club. Today he reports on the current scientific debate about “the differenciation between Russula graveolens and brevis.” Quietly I slip into the room and find a seat near Heinrich Waldschütz. He has been a member of the “Berlin-Brandenburg Mycological Working Group” (Pilzkundliche Arbeitsgemeinschaft BerlinBrandenburg/PABB) for twenty years. Like some other members of the working group, Waldschütz, a 59 year-old biology teacher, is not only a nature lover but also has a certificate as a mushroom consultant and contributes his expertise to the Center of Poison Emergency Call in Berlin. “We help the doctors define the type of toxic mushrooms, and sometimes even have to check the grastric content under microscope, so they can save their patients’ lives.”

The mushroom club was founded as a meeting place of hobby and professional ecologists to share and exchange informations about fungus. “It’s a very good cooperation,” Waldschütz raises his eyebrows proudly. “They collect and we research.” As I am astonished by the seducing color of Amanita Muscaria and the ordinary look of the extreme toxic mushroom Death Cap, fresh on the table. People start introducing and passing around the mushrooms they brought in today. There is one youngster among the elderly folk. Like everyone else, Victor Groenke, a 28-year-old mathematic student, observes every detail of the mushrooms by the magnifer, smells them and takes notes carefully. “People don’t choose their hobbies, but the hobbies choose them.” Victor laughs when I’m asking how he became interested in fungi. He explains: After seeing a picture of a Stinkhorn, a weird looking mushroom, as a child, he could never move away from these magical creatures. “The joy comes from understanding their diversity and their symbiotic relationship to other creatures.” When he moved to Berlin in 2009, he joined PABB and felt like a lost kid finally finding his home.

Evil or good? Even deadly mushrooms play a role in biodiversity By Arti Ekawati

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hey are surrounded by myths. Some people think of them as evil. They can kill

efficiently with small dosage. Why do toxic mushrooms exist anyway? Hansjörg Beyer, 44, mushroom advisor at the Berlin Botanic Garden and Botanic Museum, says

PHoto: Oenderwijsgek

The toxic Fly Amanita, famous through fairy tales, also known for its psychoactive effect

Since people in my country China rarely pick mushrooms themselves, I am very lucky to try out this experience as Victor takes me to the Bellevue Park in Berlin city. Plenty of rain and mild temperature makes this autumn a real golden season for mushroomhunting. Just near the Bellevue S-Bahn station we target our first mushrooms among the bushes, a Giant Puffball near a cluster of tiny Kaesepilzchen. Part of the Giant Puffball has been nibbled by snails, which makes it look even more like a sponge. “You find

edible mushrooms almost everywhere in Berlin. Just beware of the ones near the street, they could be polluted.” Mushroom hunting has become a weekly routine for Victor but he has no intention to make his passion a career: “My girlfriend normally has no problem with my hobby, but if I stop every two meters to look for mushrooms, it might get on her nerves. Well, but she still supports me ...” Talking about the two most important “things” in his life, the young man starts to smile lovely, again.

By Farzana Kabir Khan

Mushroom Websites Read about and see more beautiful mushrooms: www.naturegrid.org. uk.biodiversity/crypfungi.html Get mushroom advisory: www.pabb.de/ www.bgbm.org/bgbm/pr/ about/pilze.htm www.pilzschule.de/html/ berlin-brandenbg_.html

PHoto: Arti Ekawati

By Tianlin Xu

hen we see mushrooms on the soil, at the first glance we might think it’s a plant. The fact is mushrooms are fungi (fungus). It is obviously not an animal as it does not eat either animals or plants, which is a rather simple way to classify animals. Neither is the mushroom a plant because it does not contain chlorophyll and cannot make its own food, which is how a plant is classified. Mushrooms actually absorb food and nutrients from their surrounding. They are also part of the lifeline of many plants. Lots of fungi live tangled up with the plant’s roots, and help to pass on nutrients. This benefits the plant as well as the mushrooms. Trees could die without the help of mushrooms. And when trees are dying, the world will have more harmful CO2. Mushrooms grow up at any place, on soil, in water, in buildings and even on dead bodies. Mushroom play a prime role in the daily life of human beings and biodiversity. They are utilized in the food industry (cheese, bread, beer), agriculture, medicine (penicillin),in textiles recycling and as bio-fertilizers. Without mushrooms the world smell like a grave, because the most important function Looking harmless, being toxic: Death Cap of fungi is to help process dead plant and animal matter through decline, for example turning cow dung to soil.

Passionate: Victor Gruenke (center), 28, the youngest of the mushroom club

of 1500 varieties of mushroom in Berlin, about hundred are edible and about forty are deadly dangerous. Best known among the toxix ones is the Fly Agaric or Fly Amanita (Amanita muscaria), the bright redcolored mushroom with white dots on its cap popularized by fairytales. On the one hand, it is highly toxic and has psychedelic effects such as hallucinations, on the other, it is often used in homeopathy for neurological problems or even cancer. Another lethal example is the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides). Having light brown color and a cap between four to twelve centimeters wide, it is sometimes confused with champignon. The only thing that differentiates the

Death Cap is its strong smell of honey. “One mushroom is enough to kill,” Beyer says. People will not feel anything after eating it, but after the next six to forty hours they will have digestive problems. Afterwards they will feel better and think they have healed, but at this phase the poison is actually destroying their lever, causing death. Evil for humans, the Death Cap however also has a positive role: “It is easier for big trees to absorb water if these mushrooms grow near to their roots,” Beyer says. “Without them, we would have no life on earth,” he underlines. Yet, you have to be careful not to eat the wrong mush-

room. According to the data of Berlin-Brandenburg Mycological Working Group (PABB), in 2010 there were twelve cases of mushroom poisoning across Germany, one woman died after eating the Death Cap. What to do if you have accidentally eaten a poisonous mushroom? “First symptoms are dizziness, digestive problems and headache. It is important to remain calm,” says expert Beyer. ”Bring the poisoned person to a hospital as soon as possible along with the remaining mushroom, so that the doctor can identify the right medicine.” Poison emergency call in Berlin: 0 (30) 19240

PHoto: Ian Hayhurst

PHoto: Arti Ekawati

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Dossier No.4 - wild, wild Berlin